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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - The Lake Clinic launches improved medical boat

The Lake Clinic launches improved medical boat

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090514_05c.jpg

Floating Siem Reap-based medical facility provides health care services to hundreds of Cambodians in floating villages during the rainy season

The TLC-1, aka the Charming Duckling. Supplied

JON Morgan of Siem Reap-based The Lake Clinic brought the floating health care centre -cum-boat TLC-1 back to the Tonle Sap on April 30 for a test run after giving it a makeover and a nose job at the Sweline boat yard in Phnom Penh.

Low and stagnant waters limited the boat's performance, but when the water levels rise it will provide medical treatment to people in the floating villages who are so isolated that Morgan said many have never seen a doctor.

The boat became fully operational last October and treated 914 people in Siem Reap and Kampong Thom provinces before the year's end.

The crew dubbed the boat the Charming Duckling, but it has since undergone a major metamorphosis.

"We've modified it as much as the boat would allow," said "Captain" Morgan.

The first priority was reshaping the bow of the boat, which produced a rough ride in the turbulent waters of the Great Lake.

"Living on the lake last year with storms and metre-high waves, we saw the benefits of a more traditional configuration that splits waves instead of pounding them. So we gave her a nose job. The new bow also gets her close to the riverbank and allows easier loading."

Another major change was adding skegs to the bottom of the boat, a type of keel that will make it more stable.

"The boat has a flat bottom, so it can go through shallow water. But it's susceptible to being pushed. Skegs provide the boat with the ability to track a straight line."

But even with the improvements, navigating the Tonle Sap is a challenging and unpredictable endeavour.

"[The] Tonle Sap is a very dynamic environment. It rises 6 to 8 metres each year as the glaciers melt in Nepal and flow through the Mekong River, reversing its direction. A lot of people think it's the rainy season that fills the lake but it's actually the glaciers," Morgan said.

The erratic behaviour of the lake was demonstrated in this year's test run that, due to conditions on the water, was more of a test crawl.

"In Phnom Penh, the water was beginning to flow up the river, but there wasn't any flow closer to the lake. The new ship didn't have much of a chance to show us how she handled because the prop was buried in the mud for 75 kilometres."

Consequently, a trip that takes five to six hours when the water levels are high took the crew 12 hours and forced them to travel at a measly 3 kilometres per hour.

Despite the unglamorous start, Morgan predicts a good season. He said The Lake Clinic is about to sign a deal with the Ministry of Health that will make it easier to reach agreements with provincial health departments, and he is already designing a second, better boat. 

"It's on the drawing board. It'll be larger, faster and maybe even better in shallow waters than the current vessel."

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